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Draft Day Strategies: Manning in the first round

We all have our little routines that carry us through our daily life. I always enter Angels Stadium through Gate 3 and head straight toward Frankie's concession stand. I have a lucky hat I wore through the Los Angeles Kings' Stanley Cup playoff run. And I always have to listen to the live version of "Free Bird" every time I head up the I-15 north.

My fantasy draft was the same way too for my League of Record* with my chums from Corona, Calif. I would hit Miguel's Jr. on Sixth Street before the draft. Start every draft with two running backs in the first two rounds. And then I would hit Miguel's Jr. one more time before I was back on the road to Huntington Beach. It was a simple routine. (*Editor's note: League of Record is a term Adam coined to refer to the league that is the most important to you year in and year out.)

But now things have changed. For starters, there is a Miguel's Jr. on Compton Avenue, which is much closer to Mark D's house, draft home for the Corona Football League. Plus, there is an absolute dearth at the running back position in fantasy football. There are almost as many "The Expendables" movies as fantasy running backs you can trust. Nobody outside of the "big four" is considered an automatic pick. Blame, of course, the running back by committee situation. Or the pass-happy nature of the current game. Or maybe just blame Paul Heyman.

The truth is, you can't count on a running back as an automatic pick outside of the first four anymore. So the first-round is now wide open. A virtual crapshoot, at times. Running backs have now given way to elite receivers, tight ends (well, Jimmy Graham at least) and sometimes even a quarterback. I hosted a draft event recently where five quarterbacks went in the first round, even with standard scoring.

Like a lot of fantasy enthusiasts, I see a lot of great values at the quarterback position. And I'm not inclined to reach on one too early. But there is one quarterback I'm willing to make an exception for.

And that's Peyton Manning.

There is Peyton Manning, and then there's everybody else. Manning scored 50 more points than second-place finisher Drew Brees last year and more than 100 points more than Jamaal Charles.

Here's the rub. Peyton Manning is going to be just as good this year, too. Maybe better. I know, the popular belief is to brush off Manning's 2013 season with a shrug, a lazy hand wave and saying "well, he can't do that (expletive) again" because analysis.

I'm going the other way. I see Manning treating the NFL the way Brock Lesnar treated John Cena at SummerSlam. And that's nothing but pure domination.

Manning threw a crippling interception against the Ravens in the playoffs two years ago to cost the Broncos a playoff win. Sure, you can blame the defense (but not credit two special team return touchdowns), but Manning still shouldered the blame. Do you remember what happened the last time Manning faced the Ravens? He threw seven touchdowns. SEVEN.

When Manning wants to prove something, he goes out and does it. We're going to see a full season of Manning going into full grudge mode to make people forget his Super Bowl performance. And why not, he's done it before.

The year after Manning lost the Super Bowl in 2009, he came out and set career highs in attempts and completions. He also threw 33 touchdown passes, which matched his season total from that year. So in other words, no let down.

People are concerned because the Broncos have to play the NFC West. Don't be. The Cardinals recently lost Darnell Dockett among other great players on defense and could take a step back. The 49ers have a host of injuries on defense, too. Plus, you don't think Manning is going to crush the Seahawks this time around? And then he's got two games each with the Raiders and the Chiefs. Things are looking pretty good for Manning.

Great Caesar's Ghost, I've almost talked myself into taking Manning in the first round. Well, almost. Ultimately, my goal is to take Manning in the second round. In a recent fantasy draft, I tried out the strategy. I took Calvin Johnson in the first-round. And then I followed it up with Manning in the second. I was able to snag Zac Stacy and Joique Bell as my top two running backs. (Bell is poised for a breakout this year.) I also added Cordarrelle Patterson to the mix with Michael Floyd. I've got an automatic 45 points from Manning/Megatron that puts me in a rather decent position each week.

Of course, if somebody gets an itchy trigger finger and goes Manning in the first round, so be it. I'm comfortable to wait until the later rounds to take my fill of Andrew Luck, Jay Cutler, Matthew Stafford or one of the other values at quarterback. But to me, it's a Manning-or-bust early. And if not, we just readjust and move on.

*You can follow Adam Rank on Twitter @adamrank. You get fantasy for most of the day, but he loves the #HashTagWars from @midnight really late, so you've been warned. *

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